The Banjo player rule.
I’m an equal opportunity offender. Mostly I don’t do it on purpose. It requires little effort on my part, except to continue to breathe. In some cases that I ever did breathe is enough.
So you might say this is my natural talent, and while I’m good for ‘show-don’t-tell’ as a result, I should really stick to pontificating about something I know a little bit about. Fortunately, we have excellent precedents as to why that not required any more. Excellent precedents, Presidents, Prime Ministers and just about every celebrity in existence. For some reason people take them seriously, though why is beyond me. It’s even true of traditionally published and award winning SF/Fantasy authors.
I suppose one’s opinion on that expertise may differ if you consider males to be ‘ancillary people’. As an ancillary person, I really have done my best to help my female compatriots to achieve workplace equality in my little field, or rather, paddock. Crutching daggy merino sheep is an appallingly sexist field entirely dominated by men. It’s important and respected work too. I would happily arrange the opportunity for Ann and Kameron to come and destroy the patriarchy by showing us all that they can do it better. But perhaps just writing ‘Women have always crutched’ would do. So much less physically demanding, smelly, and less full of maggots, or at least one hopes this is the case.
Seriously, there is an element of the Banjo player joke about ‘offense’ (yes I will explain, eventually). Let’s be clear here, I’m not actually talking about the ‘extract-rent-by-being-perpetually-offended’ clique that Political Correctness spawned. What that is, generally, is a quest of Danegeld (in the shape of power, money, special perks). And as Kipling observed, you never get rid of the Dane. You can do your very best, comply with every petty demand… and the goalposts would just move ahead of you. They have to: that’s the test of offense-for-benefit. There’s no use in letting bygones be bygones and no longer get rent from it. It’s really a form of psychological abuse, preying on the better side of human nature. And the reality is that, almost inevitably, the more strident, the more demanding… the smaller the group. Even if allied with a slew of others, given the way the zeitgeist is moving, it’s not a big hill of beans, and shrinking. They’re just, as beans can be, noisy and… fragrant. So – if you can never appease them and they’re not that many of them… Why bother to try?
There is one possible reason: they could be your key customers. That, in the case of most traditionally published authors, is the situation. Remember, their customers are New York traditional publishing bubble, not those hoi-polloi readers. I suppose it’s a good enough reason if they pay you well enough, and you’re happy with that. Of course that is very much an isolated bubble rapidly diverging from the tastes and opinions of a lot of readers. Once-upon-a-time they – as the gatekeepers to retail, had capacity to drive sales – or destroy them. This has diminished. Not vanished, but shrunk. But they are selling into a fast shrinking pool.
I predict traditionally published authors are going to find themselves in a cleft stick pretty soon – either offend the publishers (in which case they’ll stop being traditionally published) or offend that part of the readership that increasingly detests the tastes and opinions of the NY bubble. That’s going to leave a very nasty fight over a declining pool of resources (customers).
Of course you could always aim to not be as inept as me, and actually try hard not to offend your target audience. There are two ways of looking at this. The first is the banjo player. How do you stop a banjo player from drowning? You take your foot off his head…
Which is particularly funny if said to a banjo player, or, just as likely, BY a banjo player. It’s ridiculous, not even banjo players take it seriously.
Now try substituting in other ‘victims’. Lawyers. Arabs. Seventh Day Adventists. Puppies. Depending on your audience, some people will find various variations hilarious. There are a few most audiences will find objectionable. This, it seems likely, is Leckie and Hurley’s shtick in this panel which at least two of their audience found very, very funny. Given that they’re noted newest wave feminists, and not precisely known for their skill at writing male characters, and that their feminist audience found them really funny, I think we can safely guess it was the sort of misandry typical of feminist extremists – especially among their own. The equivalent of ‘grab them by the pussy’ comments to fit their particular audience.
Like Banjo players most men understand the ridiculous nature of these jokes. If you substitute the opposites – making the jokes misogynistic – the feminists are going to be screeching for your utter destruction… even though it is actually the same jokes. Leckie and Hurley are playing to their audience, to the people who buy their books. These are the feminist equivalent of John Norman of Gor fame, giving their audience what they want. Now, as I feel John Norman, or Jill Normelle or whatever, should be free to publish and try and sell their books in an unobstructed marketplace, I can hardly criticize this strategy. You just need to be aware that that IS your target audience, and reach them. And, if necessary, prepare for fervent shrieking and screeching from the offended – who aren’t your market and were never going to buy your books anyway. It does seem to increase sales, even if it hurts the eardrums.
The second possible way is what I term ‘consideration’ – a thing which is sometimes willfully confused with ‘respect’ (Respect is a different animal, much harder to earn, and keep, and not freely given for no reason). You don’t show teenage kids mock-ups of their father’s severed head. You don’t deliberately set about mocking the weak for laughs – the banjo player joke just ain’t funny when you make it Downs Syndrome kid. I’d probably flatten you if you made it. And most decent folk would stand on your head.
It requires something that authors OUGHT to be good at: putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, seeing a character or scene from their point of view. Realistically, you can subject most things to the banjo player test – if you were substituted into that portrayal – would you take offense? Would you find it trivial?
It seems a reasonable and sensible thing do, if you’re not making your living by appealing to a narrow group. You can’t please everyone, all the time. It makes sense to at least not piss off your obvious customers, especially large groups of them. YMMV.
Apologies -the link is now fixed.